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Is Your Board Bored? Defining Board Member Roles

When recruiting and working with a volunteer board, whether a formal foundation board of trustees or an informal philanthropy council, roles and responsibilities are often glossed over or poorly understood. This can have dire consequences for the success of the organization.

These uncomfortable scenarios are likely familiar:

  1. A very well-connected and influential person who loves your hospital turns down your invitation for board service because she “doesn’t like to ask for money” from her friends.

  2. Your best long-serving board member feels unappreciated and underutilized because no one conveys the value others see in his heartfelt notes of appreciation to donors.

  3. You have a board member who can explain difficult medical concepts and make them appealing and easy to understand, yet her personal network is rather small.

  4. The board member most likely to ask a friend or colleague to support your work does not enjoy ongoing stewardship of those very donors once the gift has been secured, leaving the donor feeling disconnected from your cause.

Individuals innately understand that they have different strengths and talents, but how these behavioral preferences translate in the board service arena is subtly different than in typical interpersonal interactions.

Ensuring your board is engaged and leveraging their strengths and preferences can be a difficult and time- intensive task.

Much is at stake when board relationships go awry, and much is to be gained by positive and productive volunteer leadership. It is worth spending your time— and theirs—to discern how each current member can best fulfill his or her own philanthropic objectives, contribute to a vibrant board experience and leave your organization better off for the effort.

Scenario 1

Let’s consider the first scenario. This prospective board member has affinity for your cause, influence and affluence. She could well become one of your most valuable allies and connectors if you can overcome her objection to asking her friends for money. Her misperception is that her board role must include asking for money, and this is preventing her from introducing her network to your hospital. How can her role be expanded and more comfortable for her? Could she invite a group of friends to a physician salon event to learn more about health resources in your community? Could she host a gathering at her home to welcome your new hospital executive to the community? The crucial question is whether you, as the philanthropy leader, can convey the vital importance of these actions and reassure her that these individual efforts, added to the efforts of all the other board members, will be the key to mission success.

Scenario 2

Our second board member is already a stalwart supporter, and he is so compelled by his feelings of gratitude to other significant donors that he routinely sends lovely handwritten notes to thank them for joining him. He may express feelings that he is not doing enough, that he is not sure what his role should be or that he has outlived his usefulness as a board member even though his term is not over. Can he be convinced that the warm, authentic appreciation he naturally exhibits is the job the board needs from him? That stewarding these donors is the best way to deliver an outstanding experience and encourage even more philanthropy? Conveying this very information can keep him inspired and engaged.

Scenario 3

In scenario three, the very knowledgeable board member could be so beneficial when invited to intimate salon gatherings to make a personal presentation and case for support. Medical philanthropy is often concerned with translating professional jargon into lay language. Having a board member who can provide a compelling story while relating urgency and impact is a valuable asset indeed. Can you help this board member understand the worth of her skills in this arena?

Scenario 4

The final scenario features a board member who enjoys “the ask” but is less enthusiastic about the pre-ask cultivation and post-gift stewardship of these critical relationships. As fund development professionals, we certainly can communicate the vital importance ofthose board members who can come in confidently for the close. Can you communicate as confidently the benefit of partnering with others to surround the donor with a full experience? How can you utilize the strengths of other board members to pair up for success? Ensuring your board is engaged and leveraging their strengths and preferences can be a difficult and time-intensive task. Just getting to know your board members well enough to understand how they can best be utilized to advance your mission can take months and sometime years. To help you shorten this process and improve the board experience, you need to quickly understand each member’s preferences and skill set.

Board engagement has never been more important or more fragile. How can you identify board member preferences and engage them in right-fit roles for the success of your organization? Accordant’s CoreCentricᵀᴹ tool offers a fun and fast way for you and your board members to identify each person’s preferences, role and ways they can be fully utilized according to each preference skill set. Move on from the bored board! It’s time to bolster your volunteer directors and your mission.

Accordant Perspectives_Is Your Board Bored
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About the Author: Cindy Reynolds, CFRE, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant. She specializes in strategic planning, board engagement and philanthropy operations. She can be reached at or through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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